First Seal

OVERVIEW - The Lamb broke open the first seal, releasing a rider with a bow and riding a white horse to “conquer” – Revelation 6:1-2

White Horse Photo by Helena Lopes on Unsplash
Following his enthronement, the “
Lamb” began to break open the seven seals, beginning with the first four as an identifiable group. His authority to open the scroll was based on his past sacrificial death. Following his enthronement. the book of Revelation portrays events and processes put into motion by the Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. - [White Horse Photo by Helena Lopes on Unsplash].

The first four seal openings released “four riders” going forth on four different-colored horses. Each was authorized to inflict destruction, but only within the limits set by the “Lamb,” who remained in firm control throughout the process, indicated by the repeated use of the verb “give” - (“it was given to him…”), and the explicitly stated limitations placed on the “riders” - (“a fourth part of the earth”).
  • (Revelation 6:1-2) – “And I saw when the Lamb opened one of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures saying, as with a voice of thunder, Go! And I saw, and behold, a white horse, and he that was sitting thereon holding a bow; and there was given to him a crown, and he went forth conquering, and to conquer.
The first four seals are not in chronological sequence; instead, the contents of all four were unleashed simultaneously. This is indicated by the summary statement in verse 8. Collectively, the “four riders” killed a “fourth of the earth.”

As the first “rider” emerged, one of the “four living creatures” summoned John, “Come!” In response, he saw the rider on the “white horse” (and “I saw”). He was “given” authority to act by the “Lamb.” He held a “victory wreath” and a “bow.” He rode out “conquering and to conquer.” Apparently, the “bow” symbolized conflict.

The figure rode a “white horse.” One suggestion is that he represented Jesus, who conquered his enemies. This idea is strengthened by the later image of the heavenly “Rider on a White Horse” who defeated the forces of the “Beast” - (Revelation 19:11-21).

However, other than riding a white horse, the two figures have nothing in common. The first rider was given a “victory wreath” or stephanos. In contrast, the heavenly “Rider on a White Horse” was wearing many “crowns” or diadems. The first rider carried a bow, Jesus was wielding a “sword.” Moreover, this first rider was commanded by the “Lamb,” but the heavenly rider is the “Lamb.”

Verse 8 summarizes the effects of all four riders - death, famine, bloodshed, pestilence. Nothing positive resulted from any of them. Since the first rider was a member of this group, he could not be the “Lamb,” the church, or the proclamation of the gospel.
More probably, the “first rider” represents a counterfeit - Deceivers who subvert the saints and claim to speak for Christ - (Revelation 2:2-62:14-152:20-2113:11-17).
The verb rendered “conquer” or “overcome” is nikaô, the same verb applied to the “Lamb,” to persevering saints, and to the “beast.” Elsewhere, the latter “conquers” saints. In Revelation, when a satanic agent “conquers,” the victims are followers of the “Lamb.” For example:
  • (Revelation 11:7) – “And, as soon as they have completed their witnessing, the beast that is to ascend from the abyss, will make war with them and overcome them and slay them.
  • (Revelation 13:7-10) – “And it was given to him to make war with the saints, and to overcome them.”
The first rider went out “conquering and that he should conquer.”  The verb has no object; precisely what or who is conquered is not stated. A clause with two forms of the same verb is odd. The first form is a present tense participle (“conquering”), the second a verb in the aorist tense and subjunctive voice (that “he should conquer”). This may point to his attempts to conquer rather than to his actual success at doing so.

The church at Ephesus was commended for rejecting the works of the ‘Nicolaitans,’ a compound of niké, “conquer,” and laos, “people.” It has the sense “conquest of people.” It is related to the Greek verb used for the “conquering” by the “rider on the white horse,” or nikaô. The “deeds of the Nicolaitans” were attempts to infiltrate false teachings into the church, thereby conquering the saints through deception.

A figure with a bow may have the god Apollo in view (Apollōn).  In Greek mythology, he was an oracular deity linked with prophecy. His image carried a bow and arrow, and he was the patron deity of archery. Apollo was worshiped in the province of Asia and was considered the twin brother of the goddess Artemis.

Due to the similarity in spelling, the name ‘Apollo’ was associated with the verb apollumi, meaning, “to destroy.” The “king the angel of the Abyss” is called Apolluōn, a spelling almost identical to Apollōn, and a cognate of apollumi or “destroyer.” In the Latin language, he was Articenens, the “bow-carrier.” All this suggests a link between the first rider and the god Apollo - (Revelation 9:11).

Most likely, the “rider on a white horse” symbolized deceivers within the church who “conquered” by deception. They were forerunners of the final onslaught by the “beast,” the “False Prophet,” and “Babylon.” The “beasts of the earth” mentioned in verse 8 reinforces this interpretation.

White” represents purity and righteousness, the “righteous deeds of the saints.” That this figure was riding a “white horse” and wearing a victory wreath means he imitated the “Lamb.” He represented deceivers who worked to “conquer” the saints, including the false teachers already active in the churches of Asia.

Deceivers prepare the way for the final assault against the saints by the “beast,” a culmination of a centuries-long effort to destroy the church through deception and false teachers - (Revelation 2:2-62:14-152:20-24).


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